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Wheat harvest is under way in Oklahoma

Bryan Painter: In some areas of Oklahoma, this year's wheat crop has suffered through drought, freezes, hail and more.
by Bryan Painter Modified: June 8, 2013 at 12:18 am •  Published: June 10, 2013

As the yardstick sank in a crack at David Gammill's powder-dry wheat field, the farmer's heart plummeted as well.

The wooden measuring stick went 20 inches into the southern Oklahoma earth.

Behind Gammill, his son, Josh, was at the helm of a John Deere 9600 combine.

In a good year, that 30-foot header on the machine would be gathering 40 bushels per acre, David Gammill said. This time, they hope it'll make 15 bushels.

Wheat harvest has started in Oklahoma. And as usual, the outcomes likely will vary not only throughout the state, but possibly within counties.

The Gammills are an example of the angst and determination that mark each Oklahoma wheat harvest.

“We thought that first field we cut would only make 5 bushels and we got 15. This should be about the same,” David Gammill, 59, said of the field near Faxon. “Right now, with all the crop has been through, we feel fortunate to get that much.”

Mark Hodges, executive director of Plains Grains Inc./Oklahoma Genetics Inc., which tests wheat for quality, recently traveled to southern Oklahoma visiting some producers who are in harvest, including Gammill. Seeing the cracks, he went to his pickup for some baling wire to poke into the ground to get an idea of the depth. But he happened to find the yardstick in the truck's cab.

Even though Gammill's heart dropped when the yardstick sank past a foot and started approaching 2 feet, this wasn't breaking news. He's watched the cracks multiply and widen for months.

He knows this crop has endured drought and at least five freezes just to get to this point.

What next?

Gammill had the wheat crop of his dreams in 2008, cutting 50 bushels per acre. The next year, a late freeze wiped him out. In 2010, the 28 bushels an acre was close to his average. In 2011, combines harvested 9-bushel-an-acre wheat in his fields. Last year, some of his neighbors' crops got hailed out while Gammill came away with 35 bushels an acre.

Ups and down. The challenges are usually more bountiful than the crops.

“That's why you're truly paranoid about being ready and in the field as soon as it will harvest,” he said.

Time to harvest

Minutes earlier Josh Gammill, 31, had pulled the combine alongside a truck to dump the wheat. He got out, and his father handed him lunch in a small ice chest. He climbed back into the cab of the combine. There are few to no breaks when it's possible to harvest.

“When you get into the field you have to stay with it,” Josh Gammill said.

Thinking back to the months before wheat harvest, David Gammill couldn't remember a real good rain since the 2 inches in October. And once the wheat was ready, they needed to get it harvested before rains came. As it turned out, they received about 2.5 inches of rain this past week, in his particular area, just days after starting harvest.

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by Bryan Painter
Assistant Local Editor
Bryan Painter, assistant local editor, has 31 years’ experience in journalism, including 22 years with the state's largest newspaper, The Oklahoman. In that time he has covered such events as the April 19, 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah...
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